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Saying that Kasi Lemmons’ new movie, “Black Nativity,” is based on the 1961 Langston Hughes gospel play of the same title is like saying “Finding Nemo” is based on “Moby Dick”. Lemmons (”Eve’s Bayou”) takes Hughes’ nativity story and shoves it into the far background of a sincere but tritely told modern drama about family, faith, and redemption.
The cast includes Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige (as an angel, with wings), and the young Jacob Latimore in the lead role of a street-tough teen seeking his dad. Lemmons doesn’t seem sure whether she’s making a rap musical, an R&B After School Special, a gospel morality play, or all of the above. The music’s great; it’s when the cast stops singing that the problems start.